When the Red Sox signed Eduardo Nunez to a one-year deal in February, it appeared to be the right move. Its one I stumped for considering the utility infielder’s strong play after he was acquired via trade from the San Francisco Giants last summer. After coming over, Nunez slashed .321/.353/.539 with an OPS+ of 128. His 0.9 bWAR in just that time would rank third in his career for a full season. For a guy who had surpassed the 100 OPS+ mark only twice before, it clearly seemed like there was going to be regression. But even with that regression baked in, the thought process was that even if he went back to being a 1.0 to 1.5 win player, he was going to be valuable. This was especially true since Dustin Pedroia would be missing time and Brock Holt’s status was uncertain as well. Now that both Pedroia and Holt are back to healthy, Nunez is going to lose playing time.
Its not just because Pedroia and Holt can play, though. In a best case scenario, Nunez would have kept tearing it up in April and May, and a difficult decision would have to be made. That has not been the case. Instead, Nunez has not done himself any favors this season, making it very easy for Alex Cora to send him to the bench. Through 47 games and 193 plate appearances (which is more than Andrew Benintendi had entering Tuesday), Nunez has slashed just .243/.260/.357 with an OPS+ of just 63. A player that has never walked very often, Nunez has been exceptionally impatient, walking only 2.6 percent of the time while striking out on nearly 20 percent of his at-bats.
As if his batting wasn’t bad enough, Nunez has been terrible in the field and on the base paths as well, the latter statement being most troubling since he has usually been a valuable asset in terms of running the bases. Last year he was worth 2.1 base running runs according to FanGraphs, marking his eighth-straight season with a positive reading. This year, with only two steals on three attempts, his speed and ability to kick start rallies by swiping bags has been largely kept in check and a big reason for that is because he just can’t get on base.
The pressure is now off for Nunez. He no longer has to be an everyday player, even if that would obviously be preferable for him from a personal perspective. With Pedroia and Holt in the mix, there is more depth in the infield and that means Nunez can go back to being a jack-of-all-infield-trades, which is much more palatable even at his current rate of production. Assuming he finds a bit more success as the season goes on, Nunez can once again be an extremely valuable utility player, making spot starts across the infield and, perhaps most intriguingly, being a very dangerous pinch-runner. If he can rely on someone else to get on base to then steal, he should be able to become a n asset on the bases rather than a detriment.
Obviously Nunez still needs to be better. No matter how many positions you can play, if you are a negative contributor at every post, that flexibility means nothing. Nunez can still be a valuable MLB player and now he has a chance to get back to that role.
Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t just making awesome catches recently. (Julian Benbow; Boston Globe)
Holt, like Nunez, can be valuable since he can play pretty much anywhere, including as a temporary fill-in for Mookie Betts. (Kevin Dillon; MassLive)
David Price has a fan in Alex Cora. (Michael Silverman; Boston Herald)
And everyone should be a fan of Price’s recent work on the mound. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)
Meet the new and improved Joe Kelly. (Chad Jennings: The Athletic) ($$)
Mitch Moreland is the starting first baseman and won’t be wanting for playing time with Hanley Ramirez gone. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
Stolen bases are fun, but the Red Sox don’t seem eager to go after them. (Chad Jennings; The Athletic) ($$)